Category Archives: Students’ Skills and Abilities

Inter-disciplinary Teaching: A Novel Approach

Last week I attended an inspirational presentation by two members of our faculty. Christina Christoforatou specializes in Medieval manuscripts, Karen Freedman in abstract design. Together, they are rocking the worlds of their Learning Communities students – teaching abstract thinking and expression through English, Graphic Design, and “tours” to modern art installations.

Christoforatou and Freedman have achieved an inter-disciplinary collaboration that eludes most of us – even those of us charged to collaborate by the mission of the Learning Communities program. Most of us try, but cross-disciplinary course coordination is tough. It’s difficult to pick up a new discipline over the summer. But Christoforatou and Freedman have discovered another way to coordinate their courses, and neither had to train in the other’s specialty. In fact, their approach embraced the differences among their disciplines even as it reinforced particular ways of thinking and doing. So, how did they do it?


Posted in Students' Skills and Abilities, Teaching Large Classes, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Let Them in on What You’re Doing

Most of you are probably familiar with the old saw: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. I once heard a coda: Those who can’t teach, teach pedagogy. I used to find the notion funny, but as I’ve observed new faculty beginning their careers over the years I’ve come increasingly to appreciate just how much craft goes into teaching. Good teachers may make it seem effortless, but it’s not. This perhaps explains why many folks think that teaching doesn’t call for as much a skill as other occupations. One antidote to this tendency to overlook the techniques we’re employing in the classroom is to devote a bit of time to pointing out to our students just what it is we’re doing. This can serve both to make them aware of the cues and signals we’re sending them, and to get them to understand how they can put this awareness to work in the rest of life. Here are a couple of the very simple things I point out to my students.

One is the way I use the whiteboards. I’ve never adopted PowerPoint because for me it seems to constrict spontaneity, creative flow, and opportunities to let students’ questions and arguments shape the direction of the class. I can write something on the whiteboard and then come back to it as often as I find myself needing to in the course of a lecture or discussion. Sometimes I return again and again to a key concept. At some point early in the term, I stop and point out to students that if they pay attention to what I’ve been doing, they will see that a particular term or phrase or illustration on the board has gradually acquired a halo of surrounding emphases, underlining, circling, stars, etc. “If you see a concept on the board that’s been well marked-up,” I tell them, “you should be sure to mark it up in your notes. Highlight it, draw big arrows pointing to it. I can assure you that when you’re writing your essays it’s a concept you’re going to want to include, to explain, and to emphasize.”


Posted in Grading, Student Participation, Students' Skills and Abilities, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Increasing Student Participation – the Response Sheet

For those of us who were painfully shy as children – “painful” really is the right word – we recall our teachers telling us that we must participate in class discussions. I still have my high school report cards – the most frequent comment is “needs to participate more.” I remember even being very shy around my parents. When I wanted to tell them something really important, I wrote them a note. Some of us are just more comfortable writing than speaking.

Students’ speaking in class is highly valued and rightly so. Those of us who practice student-centered instruction don’t want to be the only one speaking during the class session. We also don’t want only a handful of our students participating in discussions. Therefore, I appreciated when Mel Silberman, author of several books on active training, conducted a session at the Baruch College Faculty Orientation in August in which he offered some tips on how to increase participation – tips included “pre-discussion” and students’ calling on the next speaker. And I have to say his methods worked; he increased participation in the session. My concern is the narrow focus on speaking without giving students an alternative to expressing themselves. An alternative that may embolden students to speak in class later in the course or down the road in other courses.

When I first started teaching, I was particularly sensitive to students who are not comfortable speaking in class regardless of the reason. I wanted to give students an alternative way of participating. While I was looking at sample syllabi, I came across a syllabus that incorporated another method of participation, a response sheet. I am sorry to say I do not have a record of the source of this way of using response sheets and have only one copy of a syllabus with my directions to students- with a few years away from work as a full-time mom, crashed hard drives and flooded basements – more than a few things have been lost. As I have stated, participation in class discussion is highly valued and often represents a portion of each student’s final grade. So why do we appear to only value oral participation? Could we not have written participation? The response sheet is an alternative avenue of participation for students that has worked well in my classes.


Posted in Communication Skills, Student Participation | 9 Comments

Getting a Grip on Traditions

Dennis Slavin, Associate Provost, is to be credited for this blog post’s title. We would like to direct you to a conversation between Dennis Slavin and Mikhail Gershovich, Director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Communication Institute at Baruch College, about teaching traditional essay structures at:

Below is a link to information on Student Writing at Baruch College from the Faculty Handbook:

What is your view of the traditional introduction-body-conclusion approach in teaching composition?

Posted in Communication Skills, Students' Skills and Abilities | 1 Comment